By Bennie Mundando
There is enough maize. We have over 700, 000 metric tonnes of maize right now before anybody exported a single bag. The problem is that millers have purposefully created an artificial shortage of the commodity after realising that the demand for mealie meal is surging.
Under normal circumstances, at this time of the year, the demand for mealie meal is supposed to be very low because by now, farmers should have been eating mponda, fresh maize, and even taking some maize they produced to hammer mills without thinking of buying mealie meal from any shop.
However, this year, it is the exact opposite because most farmers literally have nothing and millers know this. In order to make abnormal profits, they have now created an artificial shortage of the commodity by producing less and the basics of economics teach us that when demand is high, prices automatically skyrocket, more so, when there is a shortage of the commodity on the market.
What is happening is that millers don’t want to buy maize from grain traders. Why? Because they know that we have enough maize in FRA storage facilities and so, the only way to push government to release these stocks at a cheaper price is by creating a crisis. Under panic that the country is running out of food, government will direct FRA to offload maize to millers at a reduced price.
Who are the ultimate winners? Millers! The losers? Poor Zambians. Who is to blame? The so-called technocrats at the Ministry of Agriculture and line ministries who are failing to advise government properly yet this is the same tactic which the millers have been using each time we record a poor harvest.
The millers’ tactics are almost obvious and predictable. Right now, while they are busy squeezing Zambians, they are also pushing for an opportunity to meet the Minister of Agriculture and then President Lungu and they know that once that is done, FRA will give them maize almost freely and they will make a fortune for themselves.
Come to think of it, why must we have mealie meal shortage when yesterday technocrats were crying to government to lift the maize export ban? Is there any change in the factors of production?
Has the cost of production gone high? Are we experiencing long hours of load shedding that we cannot run our mills? Has fuel prices increased? The answer to all these questions is a big No!
This is not time to play partisan politics by playing the blame game on government but those who are not working must be pointed out because those public offices they occupy are not personal-to-holder. They were put there to serve the Zambians and if they can’t work, let them leave.
Without fearing anyone, the technocrats at the Ministry of Agriculture and the minister himself must wake up in case they were sleeping.
This manipulation from millers is too much and must not be condoned. Are we not ashamed of ourselves that while we have plenty of maize which we can even afford to export and feed other countries, we are going to bed hungry?
The most annoying thing is that these same so-called technocrats and ministers are the ones who are called upon to give expert advice to the president and when they mess up, the first person to be insulted is the President. We have walked this path before and we know what is at stake.
I can even tell you confidently that if no drastic measures are put in place to stop this rot, these millers will have a Christmas gift of cheaper maize from FRA soon.
My appeal to the President is that just like we have had enough blackmail from the mines, the cartel among millers must not be treated with kid gloves.
Mining companies were threatening to pull out of Zambia not long ago but how many have folded up their operations? They threatened that if the new tax regime is implemented, they will lay off workers but how many have done so?
Why then must it be a different issue with these millers? Haven’t they arm-twisted us enough? Where are the technocrats to give us sound expert advice? Where are the stakeholders? Where are the pressure groups and decision makers? Why have we become this docile in this country?
Mr. President, if those who have the responsibility of safeguarding our interests are failing, let them be replaced before they tarnish your image unnecessarily. We are talking about people’s lives here and no one must start playing hide and seek over such issues.
If millers are plotting to outsmart us, Mr. President, introduce price controls for mealie meal since it looks like they have failed to operate in a free market economy where the forces of demand and supply determine the equilibrium price.